In the Plex | Steven Levy

Summary of: In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives
By: Steven Levy


In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives by Steven Levy is an engaging read that delves into the fascinating journey of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the founders of Google. This book summary offers key insights into how Page and Brin utilized their individual expertise to come up with the transformative technology of PageRank, a simple yet ground-breaking method for navigating the vast and random world of the internet. As Google’s journey unfolds, you will gain an understanding of its unique work culture, its innovative problem-solving methods, and the tech giant’s unwavering ambition to offer its users access to the vast knowledge that the world has to offer.

The Founding of Google

Larry Page and Sergey Brin had big dreams for their company, Google, from the beginning. They believed that the success of their company would hinge on having world-class engineers and scientists committed to their ambitious vision. They used PageRank as the foundation for their search engine and focused on providing speed, which was Google’s Holy Grail from the beginning. They started operating from Page’s dorm room, dealing with 10,000 queries a day. They hired fellow graduates and former professors for their workforce. In less than a year, Page and Brin had their own research team and “a group of top scientists totally committed to [their] vision.”

Google’s Unconventional Path to Success

Google’s founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, understood the need for massive storage and chose to buy cheap, low-quality equipment. They designed their software to shift storage and processing instantly to other machines in case of failure. Their groundbreaking idea was that they did not care if the machines broke, because they could afford redundancy. AdWords became a “spectacular commercial success,” making Google one of the top companies in internet advertising.

Google’s success story is rooted in its unconventional path. In the late 90s, Google had more than 3,000 computers and the demand for storage and processing power was only going to increase. In order to keep up with the demand, Page and Brin decided to buy cheap and low-quality equipment that was often below-standard. The reasoning behind this decision was that failures didn’t matter – they expected the machines to break. The software they designed could shift the storage and processing power instantly to other machines in case of any failure. As they bought cheap equipment, Google could also afford redundancy. This foresight gave Google an upper hand as they had massive storage capabilities far ahead of their competitors.

Page and Brin always planned far ahead. They understood that the demand for storage would always grow and technology would always get cheaper. They made sure to have backed up their vision with action. Their focus shifted on being well prepared for anything.

This was also the year they came up with AdWords, which was a game-changer. AdWords provided links and rankings for the most relevant search terms that the customers would pay for according to the click-through rate. AdWords Select went on to become a “spectacular commercial success” and “the dominant transaction mechanism” for Internet advertising. AdWords helped Google become one of the top companies in internet advertising, putting the company on the map and leading it to be one of the biggest success stories in the world of tech.

Lost in Translation

Google’s ambitious goal was to be able to translate any page into almost any language. Through monolingual text and the development of the largest language models in history, Google believed that a computer could learn language structure. To establish this, the company launched a free US telephone directory service, which was never monetized, to accumulate samples of spoken English. After a few years, Google had enough samples and quietly discontinued the service. In the end, Google’s pioneering language work changed the world of machine translation forever.

Inside the Google Campus

Google’s expansion led to the acquisition of the Silicon Graphics facility, which would become the renowned Google campus. The campus was transformed into an energy-efficient workplace that provided a comfortable work-life for the employees. The facilities included on-campus services such as gyms, grocery shopping, dry cleaning, and free food. Google University offered a range of courses, and technical and cultural experts also provided lectures. The campus also featured tech shops for in-house maintenance and state-of-the-art conference rooms with built-in projection systems and plugs for all devices. Google’s approach enabled employees to be more efficient in their work, reducing the time spent on errands.

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